The U.S. Census Bureau signed an IT services contract that will make it the largest user of Microsofts Windows Mobile operating system as part of its preparations to conduct the 2010 citizen head count.
Under a new deal signed between the Census Bureau and government contractor Harris, which also includes consultant Accenture, the federal agency will distribute some 500,000 wireless handsets to government workers to help collect data for the 2010 survey.
The phones will be made by HTC, a device manufacturer based in Taiwan who has been a longtime partner of Microsofts and uses only the software giants operating systems in all of its mobile handsets.
The HTC devices used in the project will be the sort of powerful, feature-heavy handsets currently labeled as smart phones, which offer more PC-like capabilities than more common machines.
In prior years the Census Bureau has relied primarily on a paper-based system for its field workers, many of whom go door-to-door across the nation in order to collect peoples domestic information.
"They chose this deal because it allowed them to build a line-of-business application and enables the field workers to take their handhelds back to the office to sync up with the servers," said Karen Carter, a spokesperson for Microsofts Mobile Communications and Embedded Devices Division, in Redmond, Wash.
"Its going to save them a lot of paperwork and save on staffing costs as well."
The deal represents by far the largest contract signed for the use of Windows Mobile, Carter said.
According to researcher Gartner, mobile operating system software made by Symbian continues to control the worldwide market and accounted for roughly 75 percent of the smart phone shipments delivered in 2005, while Microsoft had less than 5 percent of the market.
According to ABI Research, smart phones made up only 2 percent of worldwide handset shipments in 2005, totaling approximately10 million devices. However, the company predicts that smart phones, and similarly powerful PDAs, will represent nearly 25 percent of all handsets shipped by 2009.
Harris said that the five-year, $600 million FDCA (Field Data Collection Automation) program aims to "fully integrate the multiple automated systems" that will be used to conduct the 2010 Census. Other companies named in the contract include Dell Computer, Oracle, Sprint and Unisys.
The company indicated that the Census Bureau plans to use the smart phones to directly capture information garnered during interviews, reducing the need for the processing of paper documents.
By doing so, the agency hopes to boost operational efficiency and improve accuracy in addition to reducing costs.
The Windows Mobile smart phones are currently being prototyped by the government, and will be used in a 2008 dress rehearsal for the 2010 survey.
At the height of data collection operations during the 2010 Census, Harris said the automated system will support approximately 500 local offices.